Modernity’s major advancements in human governance are: representative governments and the nation-states they govern, which we call democracies. But “democracy” is a misnomer, since the polity is ruled by elites through representatives who corrupt political campaigns and manipulate the voting process while maintaining the fiction that the people rule because they are able to vote for politicians to represent their interests. The solution to this dysfunctional polity is to bring the people into the operations of government as lawmakers in a governing partnership with their elected representatives. Lawmaking is the central power of government, the only governing power in which all the people could participate. Initially, in an electoral process that circumvents national governments, the people need to enact specific legislation, the National Citizens Initiative for Democracy that provides the nation’s citizens with legislative procedures to deliberatively exercise their sovereign legislative powers.
“Freedom is participation in power.”
(BCE Senator of Rome)
Lawmaking is the central power of government, superior to the execution of laws by the executive or the adjudication of laws by the judiciary. Voting in elections is also inferior to the making of laws, since whoever makes the law determines who votes, when, where and how voting takes place. Representatives in government monopolize the making of laws and are thereby able to protect the property and wealth of elites, who fund their elections and thereby control governments.It is of little consequence whether the structure of representative government is based on a parliamentary system as in Great Britain, or on a written constitutional system as in the United States.
There are only two possible venues for change: the people or the government. It is in the latter, wherein exists the structural problem of governance. Efforts at improving the structure of representative government by bringing the people into its legislative operations are unfortunately dependent on the legislative actions of representatives who are averse to diluting their power under the present structure. We are left with the fiction that electing the right people to public office will bring about fundamental structural change. So we repeat over and over again something that has been proven repeatedly not to work.Nevertheless, this logic does not diminish the need to elect people of integrity to public office. The point is that the election of representatives is not enough to overcome the control of representative government by society’s elites.
All people dream of freedom and happiness, particularly those who have experienced the inequities and repressions of autocratic governments. The focus herein is on the American experience, whose narrative is most familiar to this author; however, the solution I suggest for human governance is applicable to peoples of all nations. Americans were blessed with physical geography and the intellectual inheritance of the Scottish, English, and French Ages of Enlightenment, when ancient Greek and Roman concepts of governance experienced a rebirth. It wasnot until 1787 that its structure of government took permanent shape, the design of which produced a constitutional republic — a representative government — sourcing much of its laws from British parliamentary practices.
When the Constitutional Framers met in convention in Philadelphia in 1787, their motivation in designing a new government was influenced by the fact that the 13 confederate states were falling apart because they were acting as independent sovereigns. The convention delegates were the wealthy elites of that period, who realized that any loss of civic cohesion would directly affect the value of their personal property.The design of their new government did not include the structure of direct democracy that was so successfully employed in the New England town meetings and so profusely lauded by the founders as the people’s right to change and alter governments.
Unfortunately, the pall of slavery gripped the convention’s proceedings, holding hostage the possibility of a truly democratic process. Exaggerating this tragedy was the fact that probably the best opportunity to rid the nation of the scourge of slavery was in the period from the cessation of Revolutionary War hostilities in 1781 to the beginning of the Philadelphia Convention in May 1787. Free blacks and slaves had fought in the Revolutionary War,earning their share of the American dream. Eli Whitney had yet to invent his cotton gin, which later created a southern economy dependent on slave-produced cotton.
The American dream of freedom was eclipsed when the delegates to the convention failed to keep faith with the principles of the Declaration of Independence, articulated 11 years earlier, that “all men are created equal.”The delegates from South Carolina and Georgia blackmailed James Madison, the architect of the convention, and the rest of the delegates into accepting slavery as the price for their states joining the new government.
The legacy of slavery plagues us to this day. Repeated generational transfers of cruel, inhumane norms of conduct toward fellow humans, rationalized by Holy Scripture, have damaged the American psyche, perhaps beyond repair. We are a violent people, sustained by religious fervor and a dysfunctional government.
The American psyche was further coarsened by the national sense of “manifest destiny,” the idea that God wished us to exercise dominion over the land. Land represented economic freedom and a chance for upward mobility. The land of the continent was there for the taking, even though Native Americans already occupied the land. In a cruel electoral calculus, settlers used their government’s military power to legalize their continued encroachments on Indian lands. Settlers voted, but Indians did not. The Indians were not formally enslaved, but worse, national policy dictated their annihilation.
The Constitutional Framers, the elites of their day, created a system of representative government that held a monopoly on legislative power, facilitating policies that shame us to this day. Regardless of how much we praise the American form of government, it cannot by any stretch of the imagination be called egalitarian or democratic, particularly with the present growing breach of economic inequality. Our Constitution, creating a structure of representative government, favors elites simply because it was written by elites who provided for the continuity of their power by establishing procedures whereby they alone could amend the Constitution with Article V and make laws with Article I.
The Framers had to exclude the people from the ratification process in order to secure their flawed Constitution. They had to avoid a ratifying vote in both the Confederate Congress and in the state legislatures, where there would have been strong opposition to maintaining slavery in perpetuity.The solution was to persuade both institutions to refer ratification to state conventions called for that specific purpose. The convention scenario permitted the elites to keep the people at arms length, denying them a legislative role in the ratification process of a constitution that not only enshrined slavery in perpetuity, but alsofailed to provide procedures for the people to make laws.
In 1778, almost ten years prior to the Constitutional Convention, Massachusetts had placed before its citizens a state constitution for ratification that included slavery. The people refused to ratify it. In 1780, a state constitution authored by John Adams that excluded slavery was overwhelmingly ratified. The Framers in Philadelphia were well aware of the Massachusetts experience and cut the people out of theratification process, the impact of which was to alter the nature of American governance to this day, excluding the direct participation of the people in the making of laws.
The Founders believed that the people had every right to exercise their legislative sovereignty to make laws. They are quoted frequently, pointing out that future generations have an obligation to alter their governments and constitutions to suit their interests. America’s foremost founder,George Washington, in 1787 stated it best:
“People can decide with as much propriety on the alterations and amendments [to the Constitution] which shall be found necessary, as ourselves, for I do not conceive that we are more inspired, have more wisdom or possess more virtue than those who will come after us.”
In 1789 James Wilson, a Scottish scholar, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the prime mover in securing the rapid ratification of the Constitution in Pennsylvania and an initial Associate Justice of the first Supreme Court, most strongly referred to the people’s legislative power saying:
“All power is originally in the People and should be exercised by them in person, if it can be done with convenience, or even with little difficulty.”
Nevertheless, the Framers sacrificed the people’s lawmaking power in order to protect the ratification of a Constitution compromised by slavery. The constitutional Framers failed to provide legislative procedures that rightly belonged in the Constitution’s Article VII, the creation article that would have permitted the people to amend the Constitution and make laws.
The Framers’ fears that giving that power to the people would empower them to remove slavery from the Constitution were well founded. The first lobbying act of the first Congress was an assault on slavery by Pennsylvania Quakers led by Benjamin Franklin.Congress successfully thwarted that effort at repeal, and it was agreed that Congress would never again address the repeal of slavery. Slavery wasso effectively embedded in the Constitution that its removal, short of a civil war, was impossible.
Of the five features locking slavery into the Constitution, only one — that of a slave being counted as three-fifths of a person for congressional representation in the House of Representatives — was removed by the Civil War. The other four highly undemocratic features of the Constitution have remained to work their mischief on us to this dayare: 1) the Electoral College (blocking direct election of the president), 2) Article V (standards for approval in Congress and by state legislatures in amending the Constitution), 3) the Senate (where geographic areas are represented, rather than proportional representation of human beings), and 4) state and local control of federal elections.
The amending process described in Article V is so undemocratic that any amendment to the Constitution must be ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures. In effect, this continues to empower the majority of 13 state legislative chambers — 200 senators from 13 state senates, less than .0001 percent of the U.S. population ––can thwart any possiblenational reform. Little wonder so few changes,since its ratification in 1788, have been made to update the Constitution to meet the needs of the 21st century. Other than practical housekeeping revisions, the only substantial change to the Constitution was the expansion of the voting franchise. Property requirements (property ownership originally being necessary to vote) were essentially removed at the state level prior to the Civil War. Black males were enfranchised by Civil War amendments. The way was paved for a federal amendment to include women in 1920 by the repeated passage of initiative and referendum laws by state governments granting women the right to vote.
In my view, the most damaging legacy of the Constitution, other than the exclusion of the legitimate exercise of the people’s legislative powers, is the control of federal elections by state and local governments. By controlling who gets elected to federal office — presidents and members of Congress — states assert power superior to the federal power based in the Constitution. This issue is better understood as “states’ rights.” It keeps in contention the supremacy of the federal government.
Our Constitution has been extensively copied around the world, as has the British parliamentary system. Obviously, these structures of representative government easily satisfy the interests of elites in controlling societies.Representative government is the norm in all democracies,including Switzerland, which copied our Constitution in 1848but added one very significant change –– the people. The Swiss Constitution represents the next step in the evolution of national governance, adding the people as lawmakers, thus creating a successful governing partnership between the people and their elected officials. Nevertheless, the Swiss model would have better served the people’s interests had the legislative power of the people been totally independent of the power of its elected representatives.
The first fundamental change in the structure of American governance took place at the end of the 19th century without ever amending the U.S. Constitution. Starting in 1898 and up until the First World War, more than 15 states copied the Swiss model,enacting laws permitting their citizens to initiate and enact laws. Citizens of only 12 states legislate with any frequency today. Like the Swiss model, citizen lawmaking is not independent of representatives in government, and as a result representatives and the judiciary use their power in attempts to continually diminish the people’s legislative role.
The motivation for the Initiative, Referendum and Recall (IRR) laws enacted at the turn of the 20th century was the abusive corruption of government by the business community in the post-Civil War era. A survey of the more than 1,500 initiatives enacted into law by citizen legislators over the last 100 years shows the people legislated on the same subjects as their elected legislators, except the people were considerably more responsible on fiscal matters.
The problem with representative government, irrespective of citizen participation as lawmakers, is the fact that it has never been easy to participate in the electoral process except under the direction and control of political parties.The Constitution makes no reference to political parties because the Framers universally disdained them as odious “factions.” Nevertheless, political parties appeared in the first presidential administration of George Washington and to this day carry more clout than most government powers defined by the Constitution. Historically, parties evolved around regional economic interests into a two-party monopoly, which they jealously guard with the full force of the law. It is to this unsanctioned power that special interests gravitate, seeking to influence the direction of public policy in venues hidden from public view.
The Constitution distributes congressional representation geographically, where the economic interests of each state come into competitive confrontation for the limited wealth of the entire polity. Add to this a committee system in Congress designed to compartmentalize the specialization and expertise of individual members, who are ruled over by committee chairmen and ranking members (those with seniority) who acquire control of legislative empires, regardless of competence.
Because of these vested interests,representative government is incapable of structural change. As stated above, there are only two venues for change: the government, where the problems exist, and the people, whose beneficial interest is the purpose of government. The solution is obvious: people must be brought into the governing process in the only practicable role — that of lawmakers. The people may or may not be superior in intellect to the elites; however, the people acting as a constituency of the entire polity legislating by majority rule enjoys the benefits of the “wisdom of crowds.”The people do not have barriers in making decisions involving the public interest. The constituent majority identifies and votes its enlightened self-interest. The people are the public interest.
The structural flaw in representative government is the self-interest of representatives. In making decisions on public policy, the personal self-interest of representatives is naturally uppermost in their minds. Second, representatives must be sensitive to the financial interests of contributors who help them secure and maintain their office. Third is the interest of political parties in securing and retaining power, in which representatives share. It should be apparent that at this point the public interest is at the fourth level of decision-making. Religious and ideological beliefs and outright corruption may crowd out the public interest further.A system of governance that depends on private money to secure the public interest is generically flawed and naturally serves the interests of the wealthy elites controlling society.
Will laws enacted by citizens be perfect? Unlikely. But they will be greatly improved over the minority rule we now endure. When people make mistakes, they will be more inclined to make corrections. That is not the case with representatives, who are averse to admitting error for fear of having that information used against them in the next election.
Representative government encourages immaturity in people. Demands for services are often accompanied by resistance to paying taxes for those services. Representative government is literally designed to keep the electorate in civic adolescence. Successful democratic governance requires that constituents act rationally and maturely. That can be done only if people are informed and take responsibility for the public policies they enact, rather than using the excuse of blaming their representatives. Direct democracy — people acting as lawmakers — is the only form of governance that permits people to be aware and take responsibility for their political actions. The key element to its success is citizens taking responsibility, which is also the key element to raising our children to mature adulthood.
The United States is not a democracy, nor are the other so-called “democracies” of the world. They are all representative governments. By definition,a democracy or a republicis a polity ruled by people. In our “democracies,” we elect representatives to rule the polity on our behalf and grant them a monopoly in making laws. Those we elect do not, for the most part, run the country first and foremost for the interest of the people. As human nature and the quest for power dictate, politicians function according to their own self-interests.The people are led to believe by those who control the polity that their power is in voting and that they have no choice but to give their sovereign legislative power to politicians on Election Day.
That need not be the case. A process of direct democracy can be designed to bring the people into the operations of government as lawmakers working in partnership with representatives in government, securing the best of both worlds.
Since lawmaking is the central power of government, citizens can gain control of their government by becoming lawmakers, empowered to make laws for their own benefit. In jurisdictions where people are empowered to make laws, we find that people are more fiscally conservative than their elected officials, regardless of political party.
Elites question the competence of the people to make laws governing their lives. However, the people are expected to have sufficient competence to judge what politicians will do with the power conferred upon them in elections that are rigged by money from special interests and the propensity of politicians to say whatever it takes to get elected.This myth that the people are not up to the legislative task of their own self-governance is totally discredited by the 100-year history of the people competently legislating by initiative at the state and local levels of American government, by the Swiss national experience, and bythe experiences of several South American constituencies.
How can Americans and citizens of other countries become lawmakers when there is no provision in their constitutions or in national laws permitting them to do so? The Congress, or any national legislative body, is not likely to dilute its powers by empowering its people. Therefore, it is incumbent upon citizens to directly enact legislation exercising their sovereign power –– power not handed down by elites who happen to control the polity, but the sovereign power of citizenship conferred at birth–– to create governments, amend their constitutions and set up procedures to deliberately enact laws.
A delegate at the American constitutional convention in 1787 asked James Madison, the convention’s architect, how could they alter the structure of the Confederate government when any change required the unanimous agreement of all 13 states.
by Mike Gravel